Monday Morning Swing Coach: Make birdies in buckets

April 3, 2017

Every Monday, we tap GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers in America for their insights on what went down between the ropes over the weekend on the major tours, and more importantly, how you can use this information to improve your own game. Call it trickle-down tips—learn from the best to play your best.

1. Russell Henley made 10 birdies on Sunday at the Shell Houston Open to claim his first victory in over three years and a coveted spot in this week’s Masters. Ten birdies—that’s a Texas-sized haul. Other than hitting more greens, what can weekend players do to up their birdie percentage?

Dale Abraham, Bighorn G.C., Palm Desert, Calif. ( Birdie binges are the result of great putting. I ask my students to add up the total length of putts made for the entire round. If this distance is less than 100 feet, then something’s off. Most often, it’s a speed problem. Find drills that help you dial in the correct pace for putts in that critical five- to 15-foot range. Odds are you can read break correctly.  

Bill Moretti, Academy of Golf Dynamics at the Hills of Lakeway, The Hills, Texas ( Studies indicate that you’re more likely to make a putt for par from 15 feet then a putt for birdie at the same distance. It’s attitude more than anything else. Think more about getting the ball all the way to the hole as Dale advises above and worry less about the comebacker for par in the event you sail past. Playing it safe can fuel decent scores, but not great ones.

Todd Sones, White Deer Run G.C., Vernon Hills, Ill. (@ToddSones): Unless you’re a single-digit handicap, treat birdies as they really are: a rare gift. Par is the goal for most weekend players, and the best way to ensure par is to stop three-putting from long range. Spend some time rolling 40-, 50- and even 80-foot lags. You don’t have to make them—just get them close enough for an easy two-putt.

2. Rickie Fowler limped out of the gate on Sunday, doubling No. 2 and driving one off the deck into the drink on No. 4 to drop yet another stroke. Fowler cited an alignment error as the cause of his poor shotmaking. How can players avoid a similar predicament?

Sones: Most weekend players tend to aim by looking over their left shoulder as they stand in their address position, skewing their view of what’s “straight.” You’re better off choosing your line while standing behind the ball, then locking your eyes on the line as you settle into your stance. Put another way, aim the club to the target first and then align your body to the club.

Moretti: Todd’s method above is perfect—Jack Nicklaus used it throughout his career. I’d add one more thing: once you settle in, forget the target. Some shots and holes fit your eye and others don’t. With the latter, simply trust that you’re aligned correctly and make your swing. “Steering” the club because you’re not 100-percent comfortable at address can result in some of the bad moves Rickie made early in the round on Sunday.

Abraham: It’s much easier to align your body and swing path to a close target than one hundreds of yards down the fairway. Find a spot on your target line about three inches in front of the ball. Make your final clubface and body adjustments to this spot, not where you want the ball to land. It’s easy and effective.

3. We had winds in the California desert at the ANA Inspiration on the LPGA Tour, and intermittent rain in Houston. Quick—your best bet for keeping your cool when Mother Nature comes calling.

Abraham: Focus only on the things you can control and let everything else go. The important items? Tempo, pre-shot routine and attitude. Let your opponents waste energy—and drop strokes—trying to adapt their games to changes in weather.

Moretti: Like Dale says, attitude is everything. Once you start thinking about the difficulties bad weather invites, you’re toast. If it gets so bad there’s a delay, make sure you pass the time maintaining the positivity. Grab a healthy snack, or do some light reading on your mobile device. Above all, avoid the guys who are complaining. Their negativity will only bring you down.  

Sones: Learn to love bad weather. Playing in less-than-ideal conditions is part of the game. Sorry, but golf is an outside sport. Instead of calling off a round because of wind and rain, embrace the challenge. Treat it like a practice session if you have to. Learn the adjustments needed to offset heavy winds or make clean contact off soggy turf. The more experience you have in bad weather, the easier it is to fight through it.